Case Over False Political Ads Against Pro-Life Democrat Heads to Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the federal case stemming from political ads by the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, a pro-life group heavily tilted toward Republicans, that falsely claimed former Rep. Steve Driehaus, a pro-life Democrat, had voted for taxpayer-funded abortion.

During the 2010 elections, the SBA List initiated ads on billboards and elsewhere claiming that in voting for healthcare reform, then-Rep. Driehaus had “voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion.”  Rep. Driehaus challenged this claim, filing a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission arguing that the SBA List ads violated Ohio’s false-statement laws, which prohibit the making of knowingly or recklessly false statements to influence an election campaign.  The state commission found “probable cause” warranting a full hearing on Driehaus’s complaint.

Despite the commission’s finding, the SBA List continued its false campaign, via other media, against Rep. Driehaus and other pro-life Democratic legislators.  After being defeated in the election, the Congressman withdrew his case before the election commission.  Nevertheless, the SBA List filed their own complaint against Dreihaus and the commission.  The SBA List claimed it was being chilled from “engag[ing] in similar activity in the future,” even though Driehaus’s complaint had been dropped and even though, according to the state itself, the commission had only taken a preliminary step and even ultimately could issue no more a recommendation to prosecutors to consider action under the false-statements law.

The federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit both rejected SBA’s case, on summary judgment, because it was not ripe for hearing—since Rep. Driehaus had withdrawn his complaint and no action against the SBA List was pending or threatened.  In its ruling, the appellate court said that

“Ohio has not applied its law to SBA List’s speech. Withholding judicial relief will not result in undue hardship to SBA List.  No complaint to Commission action is pending against SBA List and, for reasons discussed above, SBA List has not demonstrated an objective fear of future enforcement.  In fact, SBA List’s conduct after Driehaus filed the complaint in 2010 suggests that its speech has not been chilled.”

Nevertheless the SBA List petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case, the Court agreed, and oral arguments will be held in April 2014.

Dreihaus theorized on why the SBA List would continue to press on,

“Despite being found at fault, they portray themselves as the “victim” and are then able to go to their fundraising base and claim they need support to fight the “pro abortion” machine. As a Democrat who fought to ensure that the ACA did not cover abortion and that tax payer dollars are not used for abortions, it has become pretty clear to me that the SBA list and its partners are not about opposing abortion, but about opposing Democrats.

SBA has clearly shown that they are more interested in the “right to lie” rather than the “right to life”.”

Supreme Court

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